How old is old?

southerncanuckJuly 9, 2013

Just a comment on perspective. I recently returned from Europe and was being given a tour of the village my father grew up in in central Italy. My 93 year old uncle showed me the local church that held at least 40 parishioners. In my very weak Italian I asked him how old is this church? I thought he said 700 years old. I replyed wow, 700 years old that's amazing! He said no not 700 years old 700 AD.

Our old houses in North America are new places in Europe.

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Seems this continent has a penchant for ripping down structures instead of modifying them. That mentality is born of easy money, and lots of resources. My son in law's parents had a lovely old house in SW England with hatch marks over the doorway. It was explained to me that those signified the deaths in that house when the plagues swept the continent. Old is indeed relative. I

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 4:49PM
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Plentiful resources (i.e. wood) did contribute, but I'd say the American tendency toward short-lived buildings has less to do with easy money than with the frontier/settler tradition.

European houses, churches etc. are historically much better built (on average) than American ones. In fact, in many places wooden structures are rare, and may be against code today. (While we were having a small addition built, some German friends were over, and stared at the stick-construction shaking their heads in near-disbelief that such a wealthy country could build in such a shoddy way!)

In America, settlers arrived and had to build houses fast. And, people moved a lot, vs. families staying in the same village for centuries. (And, skilled labor was relatively pricey and scarce) So, the focus was on immediate/short-term shelter, not building for centuries of use.

This has remained the tendency in American building. So, while great structures are sometimes ripped down, often it is the case that American structures are ripped down (or burned down!) because they weren't that great to start with.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 11:02PM
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There were and are plenty of wonderfully constructed American homes, churches and commercial buildings which have bitten the dust and it's more mindset than shoddy construction. The nearby city was settled in the late 1700s and many of the buildings as it became a booming community were of hewn stone, crafted by Swiss and German stonemasons. Brick as well was quite common as we had a very successful brickworks here. They have been falling like flies ever since I can remember as their owners move to the outskirts and are more interested in the novelty and convenience of "new" than preservation. The older ones are rented out or turned into apartments and fall into disrepair and just disappear. Every time a commercial building is sold and a chain enterprise buys the space, a 'special' building is erected, following their company plans. I've lived in Asia, America and Europe and seen plenty of American retail establishments tucked into centuries old buildings and cubbyholes. Aside from metro areas it would just never happen here. I understand what you are saying about wood construction, however and I also cringe when I look at extravengly made new homes and what cheap materials they are made of. It's true that buildings have a tentative life expectancy now. I've seen those figures on quotes for new school buildings. One I saw recently stated a 'fifty year life'. I suppose they figure the design and functionability will be outdated in that time span, but I surely attended schools as a kid three times that old and still going strong. They're all gone now and replaced by the new ones who will never see a century's use.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 11:21PM
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I agree that old is relative. The main part of my old house (working mans log cabin) is about 300 years old. Very old for the US considering it was here before we were officially a country.

My family has had this conversation before as most people here are shocked at the age of our home and one thing that has come up is that while even the wood structures of old were built very well ( you could barely hear superstorm Sandy roll through outside when in the main part of our house) they were more apt to burn down and also they were intentionally burned down back in the days of hand forged nails. The nails were more valuable than anything else when they were moving, especially in the days when people were moving to settle the west and planning to re-build. They simply burned down their house, collected their nails and moved on.

I also think that now we have a throw away mentality here BECAUSE we are building crap. I have friends that have bought new cheap homes and I am amazed at the cheap materials and poor construction. The homes will not last the century. My 300 year old log cabin after our restoration will continue to be passed down in our family and hopefully last as long as someone is willing to take care of it and not burn it down ;-)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 4:20PM
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According to the real estate shows 15 yrs is OLD! Are they kidding me???

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 9:22PM
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My father always thought it was funny what buildings Americans called "old". After all, the medical school he graduated from in the early 20th Century in Prague, Czechslovakia was more than 500 years old.

Timber and light wood construction is, in fact, structurally very robust. It's tastes and functions that change.

Loomis Homestead, Windsor Connecticut oldest section built in 1640, seen here in 1910 postcard.

This post was edited by worthy on Thu, Jul 11, 13 at 22:00

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 9:56PM
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A friend of mine grew up in this c.1840-50s farmhouse, originally built many miles north of the fledgling city of Toronto.

When she lived there the foot thick stone walls had been "modernized" with aluminium siding; the floor joists were unmilled 6x12s, I recall. It barely escaped demolition; saved only because of a heritage conscious young couple.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 10:10PM
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That fledgling city back then would have been called York Ontario, also known as Hogtown. Toronto was basically a hog market back then, shipping Ontario pork across the Great Lakes region.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 1:43PM
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